Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Douglas Fletcher

Second Advisor

Britt Holmén


Accurate knowledge of heat transfer to materials in recombining plasmas is needed to improve heat shield designs. A lack of understanding of the chemical component of surface heating motivates the use of conservative assumptions with regards to surface catalysis in the design of thermal protection systems (TPS) that detrimentally impact payload capability. Chemical heating is the release of potential energy from recombining reactive species on the surface to form molecules. For a stable surface interacting with partially-dissociated air, the chemical heating component is due to surface-catalyzed recombination reactions of atomic O and N to produce molecular O2, N2, and NO. Unfortunately, heat flux measurements provide no fundamental information about the surface recombination pathways involved, or how the energy reaches the surface. Rather, they give a total heating rate.

This work has taken steps to advance the current poor understanding about the chemical energy transport to and from material surfaces in high-temperature, recombining plasmas. A combination of spatially resolved laser-based diagnostics and emission spectroscopy was used to measure the number densities and gradients of the reactants (N, O), the products (NO, N2) and the energy distribution of recombined molecules (NO, N2) in the boundary layer adjacent to a plasma heated material. Laser excitation can probe individual species by electronic state (atoms) and by electronic, vibrational and rotational states (molecules). Emission can probe the radiative emission for a range of species and electronic, vibrational and rotational states of both atoms and molecules. These measurements of spatial variations in species concentrations through the boundary layer are directly related to near-surface gas-phase chemistry and energy exchange and have provided experimental information that was not currently available. Results provide the initial steps to determine recombination rates and the energy deposited on the surface due to surface catalyzed recombination of atomic nitrogen and oxygen in air plasma.



Number of Pages

73 p.